Figures released by London’s Metropolitan Police Service reveal that between January 2017 and August 2019, a total of 353 children aged from six to thirteen were investigated in relation to sending and receiving sexual images.
Sexting investigations involving children under age 14 have increased dramatically since figures began to be recorded two and a half years ago. In 2017, 92 under-14s were investigated. In 2018, the figure rose to 151, and in the first six months of last year, 110 under-14s were recorded as sexting suspects.
The true figures could be far higher, said the Met, which is not seeking to prosecute children, but to raise awareness among kids and their parents about the law.
“We do not want to criminalize young people unnecessarily—we want to educate them so that they can be better informed about the legal position and mindful about the potential pitfalls of an activity many of them might regard as nothing out of the ordinary,” said Detective Superintendent Zena Marshall.
The Met said that many youngsters had no idea that taking, sharing, or possessing sexually explicit pictures of children under age 18 was a crime. Others said that images of them had been distributed without their consent.
“We know that many young people do not realize that creating or sharing explicit images of an under-18 is against the law, even if the persons doing it are children themselves, and as police we have a duty to record allegations concerning sexting when they are reported to us,” said Marshall.
“Someone could be classed as a victim, witness or suspect, depending on the circumstances.”
Scotland Yard—the Met’s London headquarters—said that the force received sexting reports involving children from a number of sources, including parents, schools, youth clubs, local authorities, and the children themselves.
A report published by the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) last month found that a third of child sex abuse images online are originally posted by the children themselves in the hopes of winning social approval.
The Met said that the exchange of sexually explicit images amongst teenagers was now a “societal norm,” and that online indecent image offenses as a whole had risen by 130 percent since 2016.